M's prospects Hultzen, Franklin called up to Rainiers
When Danny Hultzen and Nick Franklin boarded an airplane early Wednesday morning in Atlanta, Double-A baseball was left behind in the jet’s vapor trail.
When the transcontinental flight began its final descent toward Sea-Tac International Airport, the jet’s flight path took it directly above a site that Hultzen and Franklin hope is a destination on their career path: Safeco Field.
“It was awesome,” said Hultzen, who spied the ballpark from the sky. “I’ve been here a couple times and every time I’ve looked out there and every time you hope one day you can get on that field.”
But Safeco Field and the Seattle Mariners will have to wait.
Tacoma Rainiers manager Daren Brown met with Hultzen and Franklin shortly after the two arrived at Cheney Stadium around 5 p.m. Wednesday and, among other things, made clear to them that even though they’re a 30-minute drive on Interstate-5 from Seattle, they’re Triple-A ballplayers.
“We’re in Tacoma, we’re in Triple-A,” Brown said. “You’ve got to take care of business here. It’s real easy for a guy, with how close we are to Seattle, to get caught up with what’s going on up there. It’s important to take care of business here.”
The left-handed Hultzen, the Mariners’ top pitching prospect, and Franklin, widely considered Seattle’s shortstop of the future, have no qualms with proving themselves at the Triple-A level.
“I’m just here to play and go 100 percent,” Franklin said.
Franklin, a first-round pick in the 2009 draft, will get the opportunity to make an impact first.
The switch-hitting, 21-year-old Franklin, who was active for Wednesday’s game but did not play, will “more than likely” start at shortstop today against Reno, Brown said.
Franklin will also play some at second base, Brown said, because Carlos Triunfel, 22, will continue to play shortstop for Tacoma and has not played second base since 2008. When Franklin plays shortstop, Triunfel will sit out or be the Rainiers’ designated hitter. When both are in the field, 31-year-old utility player Luis Rodriguez, the Rainiers’ primary second baseman, will be the odd man out.
“You’ve got two young kids here and we like both of them,” Brown said of Franklin and Triunfel. “The one thing with Franklin is he has played some second base at Double-A. That will give us a chance to get both those guys out there at the same time, which I think would be pretty exciting for us here.”
Franklin, the starting shortstop for the North team in the Southern League’s All-Star Game on Tuesday, crushed Double-A pitching in the first half this season, hitting .322 with four home runs and 26 RBI, helping the Jackson Generals clinch the Southern League North first-half title and a postseason berth.
As good as Franklin has been, Hultzen has enamored even the casual Northwest baseball fan, with many clamoring for the 22-year-old to bypass Tacoma and go straight to the big-league Mariners.
Examine the off-the-charts magnificent statistics Hultzen posted in Double-A and it’s easy to see why so many are eager to see the second overall pick from the 2011 draft reach the big club.
In 13 starts for the Generals, he posted a 1.19 ERA, while striking out 79 and walking 32 in 75 innings. As remarkable as those figures are, Hultzen has been even better lately. In his past four starts he has not given up a run, while holding batters to 13 hits over 242/3 innings. He’s also struck out 23 and walked seven in that span.
Hultzen said he’s found success by staying aggressive, trusting himself and not trying to fire fastballs past every hitter.
“I went through a stretch, both in spring training and the beginning of the year, where I tried to strike everybody out, tried to show your best every time,” he said. “You’ve got to trust yourself and not try to overpower everybody. I got caught up in that.”
Hultzen will make his first Triple-A start Saturday at Colorado Springs. Hultzen said he’s aware of the Sky Sox park’s reputation for being a hitter-friendly field.
“That’s what I’ve heard,” the 22-year-old said. “It’s a little different than Jackson. I’ve heard some horror stories about pitchers out here (in the PCL). Hopefully I can control that out here.”
If Tacoma’s starting rotation holds, Hultzen’s first start at Cheney Stadium will be on June 28 against Las Vegas.
On Wednesday, as the jet made its way over downtown Seattle, Hultzen said he couldn’t help but think how close he’s come to realizing his major league dream. But he caught himself from going too far with the daydream.
“We are physically close (to Seattle) and Triple-A is close to the majors,” he said. “That’s one of the things ‘Brownie’ was talking about – we’re still in Triple-A, we’re not in the majors yet. You can’t get ahead of yourself.”